A year ago Charlie’s Closet was almost bare – just two used T-shirts on a rickety clothes rack in a small storage room at Tupper secondary school in east Vancouver.
Hardly an inventory to be of much help for impoverished students needing socks, underwear, coats, pants, jackets, shirts or shoes.
“We didn’t have much. I remember all we had were those two shirts,” said Adrienne Beaton, the school’s youth and family worker.
A photograph of her and counsellor Joe Lee holding those shirts was published in The Vancouver Sun during last year’s Adopt-a-School campaign. Beaton and Lee had asked for public support to stock Charlie’s Closet because they were having difficulty meeting requests from students.
They had no money to purchase clothes for students whose only garments were what they had on, so they resorted to searching their own closets for something that might do or asking friends, family or other teachers for help. If all else failed they spent their own money.
But the story led to donations of clothing and money and a commitment from the McGrane-Pearson Endowment Fund of $7,500 a year for two years to buy new clothes and shoes for students.
Today Charlie’s Closet is filled with racks of clothes – dozens of hoodies and T-shirts and shoes and other items.
“Most of what we have is used – I’d say about 80 per cent – but the socks and underwear are all new and they go quickly,” said Lee.
“On the boys’ side we are doing really well, but on the girls’ we need more pants and clothing in various sizes,” Beaton said. “We’re pretty frugal. We’ll shop at thrift stores or the Sally Ann when there’s a 50 per cent off sale but if there’s a need for something new, we’ll go and buy it,” she said.
That’s what happened when she saw a student with his toes sticking out of a pair of shoes that had disintegrated.
“You could see the sole flapping – it was falling off. He came in and got a new pair of shoes and he was ashappy as pie,” said Beaton.
Raising money to help schools put clothes, shoes and winter boots on children in need is central to the Adopt-a-School campaign. Other schools with similar issues are seeking help this year.
“Often the kids don’t say anything,” said Lee. “They don’t want to look different but they are prideful and won’t ask, so sometimes we have to say, ‘No, let us help you.’
“It’s tough for these kids and I understand that. For instance, we have this kid, he needs a pair of pants, so we got him to come in and we loaded him up with other stuff. Then he said he needed the pants because he was looking for work. So I said, ‘You’ll need a new shirt, too, so come back next week and we’ll fit you out with the pants and shirt so you can apply for a job.'”
Charlie’s Closet is in an outof-the-way corner that affords some privacy to students.
“We want to make it as easy as possible for kids to come in here,” said Lee. “It’s private, it’s quick, so just take what you need, it’s no big deal,” said Lee.
All the used clothes are washed and stacked by members of the school’s Youth For Change club and Beaton said the school is grateful for donations.
“What’s really nice is that none of the kids try to take advantage. They only ask for what they need,” said Beaton.
By Gerry Bellett (firstname.lastname@example.org)